Happy Stella progresses with yoked prism goggles and vision therapy

As spring arrived, Stella turned a corner and found herself in a sunnier place. I’m soaking it up, people.

All of a sudden, she seems more social. Of course she’s still shy in some situations, but lately, nothing really seems out of the ordinary for her age. At the playground last week, she complimented an 24-month-old-ish boy on his jacket, pants and shoes. And just between you and me, they were nothing special so you know she was being extra sweet and friendly. (The kid looked back at her and said, “I’m tall.”) The kicker occurred last night when she collaborated with her best buddy and longstanding weekly playdate on an imaginary meal, using her play kitchen set and some dried beans and dry uncooked pasta. They collaborated for at least half an hour and afterward I offered to fund their start-up catering business. They worked as a true team, such that Cody and I felt totally inadequate by comparison. Seasoning with salt and pepper, providing Cody and me with plates and everything we needed to properly enjoy their feast, blowing on our food so it wasn’t too hot, and more–they were on top of everything and both contributed equally and without conflict. She said, “Okay, dinner’s ready!” inflecting just as I do.  Her friend took the pan out of the oven only to pronounce, “It needs a few more minutes.” No problem! They both went back to adjust the heat, open the oven, season it again, etc. They’ve always gotten along but there is a whole new level of interaction going on now. All around, Stella’s opening up to new people and new situations. Coincidentally, my shoulders are more relaxed. I’m probably more social, and less worried, too.

She’s growing so tall, that some 3T clothing is too short (to be exact without using the much-maligned months method of age accounting, she’s 2 and 2/3). Her language has undergone its own growth spurt, such that her sentences are suddenly more fleshed out and descriptive and specific. Less toddler-ese, more kid-ish. New molars have just broken through. She’s having fun with her new/first babysitter–adjusting to the situation much more quickly and happily than I dared dream. At-home vision therapy has been pretty darn smooth. Without really looking for this, I’ve noticed her new comfort with catching and hitting a balloon from above. Not long ago, she avoided this like H1N1 and now does it on her own, just for kicks. You know, tossing it up as high as she can and then catching or hitting it up there again. I’ve been very impressed and encouraged. Stella is thriving and woven in with her development, I see the benefits of vision therapy.

Up at the office, Alderwood Vision Therapy Center (for the record, we are paying clients and not being paid to promote them–so be cool, be cool), she’s been much more agreeable and engaged. I’m sure her recent developmental gains have something to do with it, but much credit goes to our vision therapist, Bethanie, for suggesting that we move the in-office therapy later in the day. It has made a remarkable difference. Later is so clearly better that we all agreed to cancel our standing morning slot and take whatever later time comes up each week. No later slots are open, so we have to hope for a cancellation. If nothing comes up, they told us to just skip it instead of taking our old time. That should tell you how rocky it was in the morning. What a relief! I felt like cracking open a bottle of Veuve Clicquot then and there, and toasting the end of a decidedly cranky era.

For a few sessions now, Stella’s been wearing the yoked prism goggles for 30+ minutes at a time! Walking across balance beams, making bead necklaces following a pattern, catching and bouncing balls, and jumping on trampolines while identifying letters or colors on a chart. All that and a lot more, while wearing those goggles. It used to be a challenge to get her to wear them for five minutes.

Though, I’ll admit it’s getting a bit trickier. Stella has shown that she likes and will tolerate the goggles in the base down position, so we need to switch things up on her. The goal is for Stella’s brain to learn to adjust to the input from the goggles–regardless of the lenses’ position. Stella will be done with them when, no matter where the lenses are pointed, she’s comfortable and not thrown for a loop. A couple appointments ago, after a long stretch with the lenses base down, Bethanie switched them to be base up. As if we’d flipped a switch, Stella’s whole demeanor and attitude crashed immediately. It upset her deeply. She became a different person! These are difficult moments for both of us. I struggle with them emotionally, but also find large clues about Stella’s vision.

When the goggles are base down, notorious toe-walker Stella walks flat–the stronger the prisms, the more pronounced the effect. Base down, which she so clearly prefers as made obvious by her cheerful demeanor, her peripheral vision is greatly amplified. In one exercise, letter puzzle pieces were scattered all over the office floor. Wearing the base-down goggles, Stella scanned the floor and found letters as they were called out by Bethanie, then placed them in the puzzle. I noticed that Stella was finding letters to her side–without having to look directly at them! With her searching gaze directed in front of her, she identified and found letters off to her side. So subtle, yet incredible.

After Stella’s brain has had time to adjust to the base-down position, Bethanie now switches them to the base-up position, which (at least in my experience trying the goggles on) lifts and tightens the visual field. It limited my peripheral vision. While not upsetting to me, it felt a bit like being in a tunnel. After the change, Stella’s brain is forced to adapt–to figure out for itself how to map out the periphery. This is HARD for Stella. Which is why I’m so proud of the progress she made in only two sessions. The first time Bethanie went from base-down to base-up, as I explained above, Stella completely freaked out and wanted them OFF. She did wear them for a couple of minutes that time, doing a familiar stacking puzzle in a secluded corner. We realized she was averse to being in the open with the base-up lenses, she wanted to be lower to the ground, and near tasks were more tolerable. In essence, she preferred places and activities that felt more secure, to counter the insecure feeling imparted by the base-up goggles. We didn’t push her, and moved on quickly. But those few moments were telling, and there was even some therapeutic benefit derived. Because the next time, her reaction was less explosive. While still showing dislike of the base-up position, she tolerated it longer and walked across the balance beam a few times! This is how vision therapy moves forward, step by step, over layers of small revelations. And in Stella’s case, mouse sticker after flower sticker, like stepping stones in a river of chocolate milk. Yes, completely unpoetic, but for toddlers, tiny rewards hold epic sway. And honestly, Stella earns them.

Speaking of sway (“controlling influence” not “middle school slow dancing”), the lure of marbles is very powerful with Stella right now, and I casually mentioned this to Bethanie. We paint with them, and play all manner of rolling games with them. So during that second base-down to base-up experience, she invited Stella to collect a marble from me on one end of the beam and walk on the beam to the other side and deliver it to a Frisbee Bethanie held, which she would then move so the marbles raced around the edge. Stella did so a few times before bailing and removing the goggles. Again, the time before, Stella wouldn’t go near the balance beam with base-up lenses, and would instead throw herself on the ground and rip off the goggles pronto. I’m going to start taping segments of her therapy and at the end, put together the most inspiring montage since Rocky. I’m taking soundtrack suggestions, so please do chime in.

Because it’s still a challenge, and because the goggles are proving to be powerful and beneficial for Stella, Dr. Torgerson is arranging for a pair of yoked prism goggles for us to check out and use at home. Holla! I’m thrilled. This is going to be good for Stella, as we can take some of the pressure off. She can wear them here and there, as opposed to having all hopes resting on the in-office goggle work. Bethanie and I will work together figure out how to make this process as comfortable yet potent as possible. Hey, so maybe Cooper and Stella aren’t the only dynamic duo in town. Though, Stella is turning out to be one hell of a teammate. She and I may take the collaboratively baked cake, if I do say so myself.

You know, spring is here, but Stella’s been so delightful I hardly noticed.

Humanity’s Awakening: Pink toenails on boys and media tantrums are all good

As someone who owns a gorgeous multi-hued J.Crew scarf and wears it every single day as evidence that she has, in fact, not “given up” and abandoned herself, I am a fan of the company. Once in a while, the kids catalog features uber stylish children in glasses, and they even sell kids’ frames. So J.Crew has won points with me, and frankly, too many of my dollars.

But I didn’t know about The Shocking Pink Toenail Incident of mid-April until, belatedly, I watched The Daily Show’s brilliant take, “Toemageddon 2011.” Cody and I appreciated how Jon Stewart highlighted the lunacy and sensationalism of the coverage surrounding a five-year-old boy’s pink toenails, and we loved his point that weekends with kids are looooong and that parents will do anything to fill the time. Let’s just say that this resonated with us. Cody laughed so hard, he cried. Hopefully it was a feel-good, hilarity-induced cry and not a “oh my god what has my life become” cry. Side note: He just left for the playground with Stella and a pink, Glenn-Beck-approved potty.

Yay for smart people like Nerdy Apple Bottom and Joseph Alexiou who have brought reason into the discussion, pointing out that it’s perfectly okay for a boy to like pink and for his mom to paint his toenails (though the picture just shows smiling and pink toenails, not any actual painting), and that the negative reactions were offensive, not based on fact, and rooted in prejudice and even hate. What I want to add to the discussion is that the disproportionately outraged reactions are a good sign. Baffling and ignorant on one hand, but on the other, somewhat encouraging! Yes, people like “Dr.” Keith Ablow have made outrageously judgmental and close-minded remarks about a photograph of a mother (J.Crew’s Jenna Lyons) smiling at her happy, healthy son. Sad. But in a way, it just proves that Ablow and Co.’s world view is on the way out. And they know it. And they don’t like it. They’re scared and angry. So they’re throwing a tantrum while smart, open-minded folks use it as motivation to rally together to refute those attitudes and send the opposite message.

Duh! An awakening is, like, unfolding in humanity! Sounds cheesy and dramatic, but it’s actually an “everyday” sort of thing. I know many people who’ve transitioned to more meaningful (to them) careers–rejecting what they were expected or “supposed” to do in order to pursue exciting alternative paths. Here in Seattle, I know countless openly gay men and women (to even have to say “openly” seems oddly insulting) who are living beautiful lives surrounded by endless support and love. In fact, I’m jealous of most of them. Like thousands of other women who are now mothers and managers and whatnot, I played middle school, high school and college basketball. Acupuncture is covered by our insurance plan. (Stella’s tremendously helpful vision therapy? Not yet. But I know that will change.) All of these day-to-day things are actually the product of huge shifts, and downright amazing when you look back even just a couple decades.

Individual freedom and acceptance is on the rise, folks, and it’s nothing but fantastic for humankind as a whole. Happy people feeling good about themselves as they are, doing what they love? They’re naturally comfortable with (or better yet, completely indifferent to) pink toenails on boys, and human differences in gender identity, sexuality, race or whatever. Because why would a happy, fulfilled person be bothered by others’ happy, fulfilling choices? It takes courage to step out and be yourself but an increasing number of people are that courageous, and they are going to save the planet. (I can’t believe I figured that out. You’re welcome.) They care about people and issues, and have energy and compassion. Perhaps somewhat ironically, they don’t “need” as many things from J.Crew (though a scarf like mine is really is a must for every woman over 30) and they are way more likely to, say, choose foods that are good for them and the earth. Let’s face it. People who lack self esteem, resent others, or feel trapped in lives they hate aren’t pushing for better recycling programs at the office. How can we create more empowered and, as a major bonus, eco-friendly humans? Let’s try addressing poverty and accepting differences. (The aforementioned people who are being called to more meaningful lives–they already do stuff like that.) You don’t help anyone by going on national TV and shaming five-year-old boys who like pink. Not a very “manly” thing to do, really. Touché!

Clearly, the movement has been happening for, to use a precise measurement, “quite a while.” In many countries, women are no longer housebound pieces of property threatening to faint at any moment. Yes, we’ve miles (and miles) to go, but we’re gaining speed. Rigid boundaries are in flux as more and more people pursue authenticity, a way of living and being that is right for them. Maybe parents won’t so much raise boys and girls as they will nurture individual human beings. Jenna Lyons’ son loves the color pink, and he was obviously very happy in the moment shared in that ad. His mom wasn’t “doing” anything “to” him. Just smiling at him and enjoying the moment. Okay, and executing some spot-on brand marketing. But still.

Yes, there are troubling counter-forces at work that are in fact “doing” things to–namely warping or manipulating–our children’s perceptions. For instance, early sexualization of girls is a major and serious issue. The obnoxious and highly strategic marketing messages that carefully target children are hyper-inflating the gender divide in order to sell more crap. But parents are pushing back against inappropriate clothing, toys and messages. Gender-neutral baby clothes are growing in popularity as people grow weary of pink/blue apartheid, which is a recent phenomenon and not evidence of “hardwired” preferences. I hope that one day, advertising to children will be banned so they can more freely decide for themselves what is acceptable, what feels right. Because right now? Billions upon billions are being spent to teach them what to want and like. To convince them of very specific ideas about what’s acceptable and desirable for boys and girls. Not cool, Disney.

The anger and fear, seen in the overblown media reaction to a smiling five-year-old’s pink toenails, is telling. As a mother of a toddler, I know a lot about overblown reactions. So I know what this latest media frenzy truly is: An extinction burst. When you stop responding to and inadvertently rewarding a toddler’s tantrums (and this decision is based on your infinite wisdom and unflinching good reason), they pitch more fits, more intensely, for a while. They sense the paradigm shift, want to retain an old dynamic that gave them control, and so they kick things up a notch. They kick and scream ten times harder than before. Then, taking sideways peeks at you in between shrieks, they wait for you to give in.

Luckily, in the case of humanity, there will be no giving in. No going back.

P.S. Also? That boy’s mother, Jenna Lyons, is President, Creative Director and likely soon-to-be CEO, of J.Crew. So stop “worrying” about him, media! He’s going to be fine. Unlike, say, the kids living on the streets of L.A.’s skid row, whom you never talk or worry about. Lucky for this kid, his mother could buy and sell Keith Ablow ten times over.

P.P.S. The offending polish, featured in and linked to from the pink toenail ad, has sold out. Per the J.Crew website: “We’re sorry. This item has been so popular, it has sold out. We’ve got other great ideas–just call us… we’re here to help.”

Unladylike ladies

Neither Stella nor I are particularly dainty. Except when Stella runs on her toes, which is quite graceful and precious. (I do it, too, even when playing basketball, but it doesn’t have the same effect.) She looks like a tiny fairy ballerina prancing about, excitedly granting wishes, instead of a toddler, running around wreaking havoc. It’s a good cover.

“Ladylike” is not a word usually associated with me, for sure. I’m pretty sure I often eat with my mouth open. I sometimes sit with my legs sprawled. During important work meetings. I don’t do the kind of heavy-lifting, when it comes to socializing, that people expect from true ladies. You know, those women who instinctively smooth out every social situation with such grace, especially in regards to men who lack their skills, making everyone feel wonderful and engaged and the center of attention, all while re-filling their glass of freshly squeezed lemonade and maintaining constant eye contact. Not me. I halfheartedly try, sometimes, but my energy is so quickly drained by extended attempts at extroversion that soon I’m the one alone, in the corner, at my own party. And I’m fine with it.

It’s too early to tell what her true inclination is, but at the current moment at least, Stella is a bit of a tomboy, like me. The last time I put a dress on her, she almost tore her arm muscles in a futile attempt to rip it off. Her eyes were popping out of her head from the strain of the effort to remove the flowly, intrusive garment by simply pulling it directly away from her chest. (After just a moment’s entertainment, I took it off, of course.) She won’t let me put clips in her hair. She immediately ruins all her pretty, expensive shoes with massive dirty scuffs. I always find it puzzling that so many toddler boy shoes have protected or reinforced toes while little girls’ footwear is left with butter-soft leather on the toe. Might as well throw a heel on it as apparently, shoe manufacturers don’t expect little “ladies” to be as active as boys. And don’t get me started on sippy cups. So boys get to gaze at dinosaurs and imagine about and perhaps imitate what these prehistoric creatures  may’ve been like while girls get to look at bright pink flower and dot patterns? Humph. I purchased the dinosaur cup but haven’t been so bold as to opt for boy shoes. Soon, she’ll make that call. But I digress.

You could not describe Monday’s incident as ladylike. We were at a friend’s house, attending a get-together of about seven of Stella’s peers and their parents. Music, both kid- and parent-friendly, filled the air. People noshed on lentil stew, veggies and an assortment of cookies. Kids played happily all over the joint. The vibe was jovial. When all of a sudden, the loudest, most blood-curling scream in the history of anger pierced the air like a butcher knife. Everyone’s eyes bugged out, jaws dropped, wide-eyed children froze in fear, and soon all parents within a ten-mile radius had rushed to the scene to administer CPR or otherwise address whatever life-threatening injury had been sustained, to hopefully keep the toddler alive until paramedics arrived. Okay, EMTs weren’t summoned, but I’m pretty sure I saw someone grab their phone. I, on the other hand, didn’t move. I waited until the sustained, eardrum-shattering, horror-movie-style scream at last ended, because I needed to collect myself. It was Stella. She was not dying. Her pathway had been partially obstructed by a chair.

Deep. Breaths. I’m pretty sure that any time Stella feels boxed in, her frustration skyrockets immediately. She expresses it with a primal scream. This has happened in response to the fit and snag potential of dresses. Those with an empire waist can fit snugly around the middle, which she loathes. My mother recalls very clearly that I too raged against remotely tight-fitting clothes, so really, Stella’s behavior may be simple karma. Anywho, this “boxed in” theory of Stella’s frustration has als0 been proven at Gymboree. Once, she stopped mid-slide to just hang out there observing Gymbo’s antics, and some sweet kid has the audacity to try and pop a bubble at the bottom of the slide. She screamed and kicked at him, and I swooped in to prevent her from making contact.

Yes, she got it from me. I have unladylike responses to frustration. (Cody is almost impossible to frustrate, which is infuriatingly frustrating.) But exactly how was this inclination transmitted from me to her? My outbursts during her feeding aversion probably didn’t help. Her frustrating 32-hour birth, wherein she basically got stuck because her head was sideways, wasn’t a great way to start life as a content little lady. Going back further, all the very unbecoming road rage I experienced while pregnant could be the problem. Maybe all that beeping led to all this screaming. Pretty sure I could find a study to confirm this in five seconds of googling. But the other likely cause is toddlerhood. Toddlers, both girls and boys, do scream. Not surprising for her age, Stella’s very active and feels way more comfortable when she has a lot of space. I have to say that she’s not always doing flips and wind sprints–she is also social and sweet, darn close to ladylike. She gives a good hugs, and often puts her arms around her playdate buddy, Cooper (they hugged each other this week, actually–a first). Those two dance together (okay, sometimes Stella tries to drag him to the dance floor, but still). They get excited about seeing each other! But God forbid he ever get in her way. I bet Cody (my husband) knows how he feels.

So, it was with trepidation that I purchased a truly beautiful, only-one-of-its-kind dress, designed and sewn by a local woman from cheerful, mostly floral vintage handkerchiefs, for Stella to wear to this coming weekend’s wedding in NYC. Cody’s cousin is marrying her charming British beau. The bride just so happens to help create the beauty that appears in the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings. That’s right. She works for Martha. She helps envision beautiful weddings for a living. So. I was not going to let Stella wear fleece pants and a dirty onesie to this particular event. I was also not going to let myself wear stained jeans to this fabulous occasion,and purchased a comfortable but stylish vintage-inspired shift dress (say that ten times fast) for myself.

My hope was that for one night, at least, we could fake it. I’d chat up strangers, cross my legs, and chew with my mouth closed. Stella would wear a compliment-magnet of a dress and gracefully and quietly navigate her way around chairs and people, and we would look back at the pictures one day and marvel at what pretty ladies we were. If only for a moment.

So imagine my surprise when I put on my own dress, and Stella took notice immediately. She perked up and grabbed at the hem, as if to admire the fabric. “Dress” instantly became part of her exploding vocabulary. I seized the moment and asked her if she’d like to try on her very own dress. She put her arms up, ready for it. I pulled it over her head, zipped it up and tied the bow in the back. She smiled, and pranced away while tilting her head to the side, the very pleased way she does when she looks in the mirror, a move that translates to, “Aren’t I adorable?” I figured it was a fluke and took it off a couple minutes later, wanting to preempt a frock fit. She demanded it be put back on. WHAT? Perhaps I sold the dress thing a bit too hard. Remind me to applaud when she asks to wear jeans. You know, for the sake of balance.

But. Our flight to JFK was canceled on Thursday. Then it was canceled again today. I was not surprised at all, because our flights are canceled about 75% of the time. This is not exaggeration. Our terrible travel luck is the stuff of legend. Further, the more prepared and excited we are, the more likely it is that we’ll be staying put. Here’s a typical pre-trip email conversation: I write, “Hey, family! We’re on a direct flight on Alaska Air. Can’t wait to arrive on Sunday!” Family: “Great! See you Tuesday, if at all!”

So, we will not make it to NYC for the wedding. I’m so sad to miss the chance to both celebrate the very happy nuptials of a wonderful couple and to spend time with our extended family. But it’s out of our control. I should probably just return Stella’s pricey frock, as she’ll surely outgrow it before she has an occasion to wear it. Part of me wants to keep it and let her wear it to Gymboree and the playground. Something about a dress of flowy vintage handkerchiefs on a tomboy rolling in a mix of dirt, sand and wood chips is incredibly appealing to me. I could wear my shift dress and gold heels while chasing Stella around the park.

Due as much to my demeanor as my apparel, there have been many mortifying incidents wherein I was mistaken for a boy–even into my teens! And unless Stella’s wearing head-to-toe pink, people tell me how cute “he” is. (That’s a whole other post.) So maybe we’ll make a statement next time we’re out. Ladies? You want us to be ladies, world? We got dresses and we’re not afraid to use them. We’ll show you how REAL ladies roll–and skewer your rigid gender stereotypes. Believe.

Thwarting an emerging toddler dictatorship

Stella screamed, at the top of her incredibly powerful 16-month-old lungs, several times at Gymboree today. Because she wanted the almighty red-headed puppet Gymbo, but he was a crowd of toddlers away and busy hanging out with someone else. Because a smiley classmate found a stray bubble next to her on the slide, and she seemed to feel boxed in or threatened by his positioning across the bottom of the slide just below her (she kicked her feet at him, but didn’t actually make contact before I swooped in and took her away). Because I tried to pick her up and bring her to the singing circle. And just because. (There seemed to be absolutely no reason for a couple of the angry shrieks.)

For a while now, we’ve had a strong, rock-solid philosophy, though hard-earned, when it comes to eating. Good. And while Stella’s sleep isn’t perfect, it’s pretty darn good, due to a consistent approach to napping and bedtime that really works for all of us. So, with shut-eye and food, we have a “way of doing things.” We know what’s effective, what we believe and makes sense to us, and how to respond when things go haywire. The next frontier, it seems, is figuring out how to help Stella manage her emotions (and volume!).

I’m overwhelmed and often quite nervous, though I strive to prevent that from showing. I’m in charge. I’m in charge. I’m in charge.

One evening not too long ago, Stella and I cut a rug like you read about, to the tunes of our current favorite album: Here Comes Science. We had so much fun, and it was totally organic and breathless and joyful. Well, she now wants to repeat this magic on the hour. Here’s what I mean: She’s playing with her whimsical number flash cards and I’m sitting on the floor nearby, watching, calling out numbers, and relaxing, when a fast-paced danceable number pipes up on the stereo. She perks up and bounces twice because, well, she just can’t resist, then with brow-furrowing purpose marches over to me, and grips the shoulders of my sweater, attempting to forcefully yank me to my feet while shouting something unintelligible. (When Daddy’s around, his attendance is also 100% mandatory–she hunts him down in the kitchen with a forceful pointing gesture.) Mini-dictator wants to dance! What fun! But heaven forbid you slow down or take a break. That is strictly forbidden! I must keep my feet moving and my face cheerful lest I incur Stella’s wrath, which is swift and punishing to eardrums and souls. (Of course, this is all incredibly amusing and, in a way, truly wonderful, to me until I’ve danced a few songs and truly need a break.)

Stella’s been an increasingly take-charge baby from day one. She nearly wailed her head off during her first full night of life here on earth. The sound echoed through the silent hospital ward, and I imagined it drifting over the heads of the more content and sleepy newborns. The nurse was genuinely baffled. At five weeks old, she started to tell me more and more clearly that she’d really rather not eat. “No really, you’re quite kind and thank you very much, but I’m not at all hungry. Tummy’s a bit sour to be honest. Just reeling from all the excitement of my new life, I suppose.” I’d be all, “That’s bull crap! Really, you should eat! It’s been five freakin’ hours and the books say you must be starving, darn-it!” She’d indulge me by having a tiny one-minute snack and say, “Oh thank you that was divine but I really must be going now. Can you please be a dear and fetch my bumbershoot?” And I’d insist, “Oh but you hardly ate anything! Don’t be rude! I can’t let you leave hungry! Let me boil you another hot dog. (pause) What’s a bumbershoot? (angry pause) You know I don’t like fancy talk!” That’s when she’d put her foot down, “NO THANK YOU MOTHER! I’VE HAD QUITE ENOUGH NOW GOOD DAY!” Me: “Are you sure?” Stella: “F OFF!”

She has also consistently let me know that she does not like being in car seats or strollers. Frankly, I think it’s because in those scenarios, she isn’t involved enough. Not able to see all the action. Not in control, where she clearly belongs. After all is said and done, I respect her more than just about anyone I know. She’s weathered a good storm in her day. She knows what she wants and declares it. Most of the time, I do neither. But I’m working on it.

My current project is to continue to build confidence in myself as a mother, and to decide with Cody how to handle Stella’s outbursts. To be consistent in setting proper limits without limiting her rightful expression. I want her to keep speaking up. I just want her to know when it’s necessary, and when a simple “please” or “help” or, oh, two seconds’ patience will do. She’s already taught me about that particular virtue, but I suppose we both need a bit more. And possibly, ear plugs.

What would my mom and Kevin Garnett do?

I remember one day, having been home from college for a brief stint, my mother, who is a pretty wonderful kick-ass character, sensed that I was not doing so well. She drove me back to school, and as I reluctantly got out of the car, she suddenly put her hand on my arm and said, very seriously, “Don’t take crap from anybody.” I smiled all the way back to my dorm.

It looks as though I won’t need to give Stella this important lesson. Not any time soon, at least.

This is the child who decided she’d really rather not eat. At all. With each vehement refusal, I came to see just who I was dealing with. “No, thank you, mother. I’ve decided that eating is not in my best interest. Take your boob and shove it. The bottle can kiss my ass. Back off!” She was trying to tell me something and found a very effective way to get her message across. She would not back down. However frustrated and desperate I became, I respected her immensely.

She is a good eater and a toddler now. And she is starting to throw tantrums. Real tantrums. Formidable fits. She tosses herself with abandon. Cody calls them “trust falls,” and they’re not always done in times of anger or frustration, but she will throw her entire body on the ground, apparently expecting you to catch her, no matter where you happen to be at that moment. She will scream as if being physically attacked in the event that–God forbid–you don’t hand her that snack, piece of trash, or whatever it is that she wants immediately.

Frustration pose: Exhibit A

Rare photograph of Stella's frustration pose

For months, Stella would occasionally strike a very alarming pose. She balled up her fists tightly, stuck her arms straight out, made “crazy eyes” and clenched her jaw with all her might. This would last just for a couple of seconds, and then pass, leaving us bemused and mildly disturbed–she was obviously upset but we had no idea why. Many other parents had not witnessed such behavior in their babies. I now know that she did this because she wanted something but had absolutely no way of communicating to us the object of her desire. Stella has always known what she wants (and doesn’t want). This expression decreased in frequency when she began to point, a development that I savored because she would actually point to food she wanted to eat. It made me cry. I was so happy.

Anyway, last week, we went to the park. She would not let go of her beloved Snack Trap, so I let her walk around the playground with it. Now, my gut told me that this was a bad idea. She could fall and she might wind up with the handle in her eye. It might distract her and she may be more likely to run into something or someone. Or, it could set off World War III. Which it did.

A very friendly, smiley young lady, who had to be around 18 months of age, sauntered up to Stella in, as you’d expect, a very friendly, smiley fashion. She then gently, and I mean gently, reached for Stella’s snack trap. Stella took a step back. The girl then lunged for the goods, managing to stick a couple fingers into the cup’s opening–and as she did so, Stella yelled, clearly agitated. But she stayed put. The girl’s father and I tensed up slightly and moved closer to them, not sure how exactly to handle this but realizing that diplomatic intervention would likely be required.

He said something like, “That’s not yours, sweetie. You can’t take other people’s snacks.” She ignored that wise counsel, as warring factions often do, lured by the catnip-for-toddlers appeal of the Snack Trap, and lunged again. This time, Stella actually stepped toward the girl, and held her off with her free hand while screaming and violently waving the cup high over her head. It was so intense! And actually, rather impressive. It reminded me of basketball. A street game. And Stella was somehow a center, about to dunk on this girl’s head and then do something like this. The girl’s father smiled and said, “There  you go!” as if pleased that Stella had taken such decisive action.

This stand-off highlights for me that gray area that new parents struggle with. Should I have encouraged Stella to share? Stella is good at sharing. She spends most of her day handing things to people. But do I want other kids’ hands in her food? And aren’t we supposed to teach boundaries? These questions became more urgent a few days later, when a kiss-happy boy planted several smooches on Stella. The incident escalated to the point where his mouth was over Stella’s nose, and left it covered in saliva. Yeah. All I could think/say the whole time (nervously, with the pitch inching ever higher) was , “Um… um… um… um…” Stella didn’t react. At all. But I was sorta horrified. I expected the parent to reign the kid in, but that never happened. I understand not wanting to discourage such loving behavior, but isn’t there a limit?

This happens a lot. I guess it’s just part of being a toddler and enjoying that brief time in your life when you can walk up to total strangers and tongue them, rob them, share their food–all without saying a word, and it’s pretty much business as usual. Not cause for imprisonment or restraining orders.  We were at Seattle Children’s Hospital recently, waiting for Stella’s foll0w-up renal ultrasound a few weeks ago (it came back looking good, by the way–really more of a formality than anything). She was enjoying a snack in her stroller when a happy little boy came up and put his hands on Stella’s face. I wasn’t sure what to do. Oh they fool you with their glowing sweet faces and then BAM! Germ attack! I waited for his mother–standing right behind him–to intervene, but she did not. The kid then put his hand in Stella’s mouth, his fingers covered in her chewed up cracker. His mother did not do a thing. Again, we were at Children’s Hospital, a place were germs loom like deformed monsters! I did my best to brush it off because that mom looked like a depressed zombie. She was there for a reason… and it may’ve been a devastating one. I cut her some slack. What else was I going to do?

These days, Stella seems to know exactly where to draw the line, but I’m often not so sure. I want to heed my mother’s advice. I don’t want to permit misbehavior on Stella’s part, but she is too little to understand real discipline. I also don’t want either of us to take “crap” from anybody, but I don’t want to stifle Stella or instill mistrust and fear. I certainly don’t want my anxiety to rub off on her. It’s a balancing act. Balance isn’t exactly my strong suit but I’m working on it.

The next time Stella throws herself on the ground, I can, at the very least, admire her n0-holds-barred decisiveness. Her Kevin-Garnett-like intensity. It’s interesting. On the court, I was a guard, but it looks like Stella is more comfortable in the paint. Have I mentioned that she is now in the 90th percentile for height? I know, I know! Stop getting my hopes up about basketball! Tutus are ahead! Princesses, pixies and fairies. Oh my god–and pink fairy princesses in tutus sprinkling purple glitter pixie dust!

All I know for sure is that she’s got guts, that kid. And I love her all the more for it.